Bowdoinham is looking for ways to tackle a housing crisis that is driving away young professionals, young families and the elderly.
At a meeting on October 26, the Bowdoinham Community Development Initiative orchestrated a meeting with affordable housing developer John Egan of the Genesis Fund, housing planner Michael Martone, the Bowdoinham Comprehensive Planning Board and community members to discuss of the city’s housing needs and find ways to encourage development.
As an elderly person struggling to care for her four-bedroom farmhouse, Peggy Christian said she wanted to upgrade to a two-bedroom house but there was “nothing to sell”. Christian said her current home was “too difficult to maintain”, but she does not want to leave Bowdoinham.
Housing Authority member Tom Cary blames the housing shortage on foreigners who once rented in Maine during the summer months and have now acquired “a lot of properties”.
In 2020, Maine gained 15,473 people through internal migration, according to a previous Portland Press Herald article.
Assistant broker Cara Taggersell said when she moved to Bowdoinham seven years ago she and her partner repaired an old farmhouse which she says is an attractive option for young couples. However, since the pandemic, even repairers are scarce.
According real estate agent.com, the availability of accommodation in Bowdoinham is significantly lower than in neighboring towns. In Bowdoinham there are six houses listed, two of which have yet to be built. Brunswick has 62 listings available, Topsham has 16 and Richmond has 15.
Listings at Bowdoinham range from $125,000 to $650,000, none of which are designed to accommodate a solo owner.
Resident Pam Buffington noted the lack of one-bedroom apartments available for young single people, which she said could eventually discourage new teachers from working in their school district. She said building co-housing units with shared resources could be a solution, and she thinks it would fit with the well-established community culture of “helping each other out.”
Building on Buffington, resident David Asmussen proposed “encouraging downtown density” to attract a younger population and new businesses.
Overall, residents said they wanted more duplexes, housing for on-site agricultural workers on farms, housing near the highway, affordable senior housing, cluster housing, more commercial spaces downtown, co-housing units, cul-de-sac developments, splitting large plots of land into smaller ones, and revamped septic rules.
Bowdoinham’s director of planning and development, Jennifer Curtis, acknowledged: “Everything you have described can happen. However, Curtis said when the city develops its comprehensive housing plan, it will need to consider the setbacks required for new septic systems in wetlands.
Discussions on ways to implement the new ideas will take place after the holidays.